How to Combine Service Learning and Persuasive Writing

Notes from the Classroom

In this season of giving, it can be challenging to get students to think beyond themselves and their list of wishes.

That’s why an Academic Service Learning project is one of my favorite things to do. This project, part of my district’s initiative to connect learning and community service, allows me to combine persuasive writing with student choice, in a way that produces lots of great ideas for a class project–and guarantees family involvement from the start.

Our Service Learning Begins with Reading

I start by reading students several books over the course of a week, asking them what they notice, and charting their thinking. At the end of the week, we start to look for common themes that emerge. This helps to launch the conversation about our project. Books I have used include:

Some other books that may be helpful are:

Students Propose Actual Service Projects, via Persuasive Essays

After we have read the books and discussed themes, I reveal the assignment to the students: they must come up with an idea for our class ASL project and write a persuasive essay about why we should do their project.

I send home a letter to families asking them to have a conversation with their child, and to help them come up with some ideas for our project. Students bring back their ideas and then they choose one to use as the basis for their persuasive essay.

This makes the writing so much more purposeful. Students know that they have to convince not only me, but also their classmates, in order to do their project.

Then We Vote

Once all essays have been submitted, I begin the task of choosing five to six for the students to vote on. (Side note: if you haven’t used Google Classroom before, you should try it for writing assignments! Life changing!) I try to find a nice variety of ideas as well as essays that are well written.

After this is done, I read the finalists out loud to the class. I always stress that they are not to tell who wrote what; this needs to be about the project and the writing, not a popularity contest. Once the votes are in, we begin the process of planning and implementing our ASL project.

And Finally, We Take Action  

This project has been a great way for me to get kids engaged, help them find passion, and get them to think outside of themselves. We have raised money for local animal shelters, sent money to WWF for elephants, made blankets and games for children in local hospitals, and purchased books for children in a nearby school. The reward of seeing my students feel so successful goes far beyond what I could have imagined. I will never teach persuasive writing any other way.

beth Beth Rogers (@bethann1468) has taught in the elementary setting for the past 11 years. During this time, she earned her Master’s in Educational Technology from Michigan State University. This year, she is in a new position: Instructional Technologist K-12. This gives her the unique opportunity to work with teachers and students, district wide, to incorporate technology into their teaching and learning, in ways that engage, enhance, and extend the learning. She has already already begun to work with multiple classrooms to engage students in blogging, and to help teachers understand the power of this platform. At home, she lives with her husband, sons, and an anxiety-ridden German Shepherd who requires inordinate amounts of time and attention.

How to Build Active Readers

Notes from the Classroom

Recently I was teaching a demonstration lesson at Oakland University. I brought one of my students, Brandon (a pseudonym), who was among the lowest readers at the beginning of first grade. He had been in an intervention group all year with his first grade teacher and an additional group with me. Now in the spring, we were working one on one, as he still had not yet met grade-level standards.

Brandon was right in the middle of reading a familiar text, The Clever Penguins, by Beverly Randell, when he suddenly stopped and said, “Wait, I think that the seal ate a lot of penguins. Do you know why? Look at his fat belly! And look.” He jabbed his finger repeatedly at an illustration. “I think he just kind of let her get away.”

At the time I was pleased that he was thinking so deeply about the story he was reading. However, I had no idea what my peers were thinking about Brandon’s responses to the text. Several came up during our break and inquired.

“How did he learn to talk that way about books?” someone asked me.

“Wow,” another said.  “How did you get him to search and use evidence from text to support his thoughts? This is an intervention student!”

Their questions made me pause. Just how did I help Brandon and my other intervention students think that they should be asking questions every time they read?

Steps to Take

In the classic How to Read a Bookauthors Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren remind us that as readers, it is our responsibility to be active and awake. That means it is our job to ask and answer questions while we read.

It is also the reader’s job to understand the structure of the text and to take notes in the margins. Additionally, it is not sufficient to read a text just once. We must reread it, and consider how it may link to other texts that we are reading.

So, how did Brandon learn to be an awake, active reader at the age of seven?

When working with intervention students, it is critical to build up their background knowledge of a variety of text types, literary structures, and vocabulary, and to do so using rigorous but engaging picture books in an interactive reading format.

A few steps to remember:

  • It’s paramount to intentionally teach conversation moves that help students grow their thinking about books; this should be done in a community of learners.
  • It’s also important to read and reread, in order to find evidence in the text to support one’s thinking.
  • Students move into reading their own books in a guided reading format, using leveled texts.
  • During one-on-one conferences, the teacher assists students to transfer their learning from the read-aloud setting to their own reading.
  • Along with learning word-solving skills, meaning now becomes an equally important tool that enables students to accelerate their literacy progress.

Bringing It All Together

So if asked again, “Why did Brandon approach the reading of what seems like a simple text with his questions and deep thoughts?” my answer would be:

  • If you include quality literature with opportunities for students to build their background knowledge, including selections linked to the classroom units of study, then students can connect the dots to see how their learning links up and can be used between intervention and classrooms–which indicates transfer of learning has taken place.
  • You will soon hear your students talk the way Brandon did, every time they read.
  • And you just might also hear, “I LOVE this book! Can I take this one home? Do you have any more like this one?”

My school year is complete, as many of my students are now engaged, active, grade-level readers.

Lynn and her co-presenter Christine Miller will be presenting on the topic “Intentional Teaching = Accelerated Learning” at the Oakland Schools Effective Practices Conference, on June 20 at Bloomfield Hills High School.

Lynn Mangold Newmyer has been an educator for 42 years. She is a Reading Recovery Teacher Leader and an Elementary Literacy Coach in the Walled Lake Consolidated School district. Lynn has presented at state, national, and international conferences and has taught graduate classes at Oakland University. She currently teaches her students at Loon Lake Elementary. Lynn emphatically believes that you can never own too many picture books. You can follow her on Twitter at @LynnRdgtch.

Let’s Talk about Talking

Notes from the Classroom
A view from the author's classroom.

A view from the author’s classroom.

At my school, we have found that by working on oral language confidence, we can help lower-elementary students build up their reading and writing skills. When students are comfortable speaking in front of others, they start to feel more comfortable trying new things or taking risks to build reading and writing skills.

Below are some ways I have incorporated oral language skills into my classroom.

Student of the Week

Each week, one student is chosen to be student of the week. Students have to bring in a poster board decorated with pictures of themselves, family, things they like, and so forth. They present it to the class and talk about each picture.

That week they also bring in a toy and read a book to the class. After each activity, the other students are encouraged to ask questions of the student or share connections.

These activities give the presenters an opportunity to build oral language and presentation skills, in a fun, non-threatening way, since they know a lot about the topic and they choose what they are sharing. It also helps the audience learn to ask questions and practice sharing in front of a group.

Writers Workshop

At the beginning of the year, “writing” lessons focus on oral stories with picture illustrations. The students learn about stories’ components, without focusing on the stressful act of writing. When they have a more solid foundation of letter writing and sound skills, we move into the act of writing.

Most my writing lessons still start with students’ orally telling a friend what they are going to write about–before going off to work. This helps the students completely formulate the thought they want to write about.

Flipgrid

An app, Flipgrid, allows students to record videos about "how to" writing.

An app, Flipgrid, allows students to record videos about “how to” writing.

Another idea I recently tried, inspired by an app discussed in this blog post, was to have students present one of our writing assignments using Flipgrid.

My latest writing unit was on “How To” writing. I had the students choose something they wanted to teach someone to do. Then they drew an illustration of each step. Using the illustrations, they each created a video in Flipgrid.

My students were so proud of themselves and loved doing it. And though we could use some video-skills practice, we’ll get there! I am excited to find what other lessons will easily lend themselves to using the app, and I know my kinders are too.

Work Activity Time–AKA Free Choice

I briefly touched on the power of play in a post last year. Play is such an important part of the day, not only because of the creativity that students are allowed to demonstrate, but because of the conversations, problem solving, and pretending they engage in.

In February our school participated for the second time in Global School Play Day (mark your calendars for the fourth annual event, on February 8, 2018). This is a day dedicated globally to promoting the positive aspects of play. On this day, our upper elementary teachers shared how students that never speak out in class were really getting into the games they brought in. The student groups mixed together and brought out shared interests, as they had conversations while playing a game. This was a site to see! Students became more comfortable with their classmates, and in turn more comfortable speaking out in classroom discussions.

Bringing It Home

This year I have been sending home a “choice board” to parents instead of “homework.” It has things on it like, “Write thank you notes for holiday gifts,” “Jump up and down counting by 10s,” and “Read a nonfiction book.” I also added things like, “Go for a walk and talk about the signs of winter you see,” or “Talk about the different animals you see and what you know about them.”

All together, these activities build students’ speaking skills. And in doing so, they help lay the important foundations for students’ reading and writing skills. To get students talking–it’s something we as teachers should keep talking about.

image1Tricia Ziegler (Twitter: @axf96; blog: http://kindergartentreasures.blogspot.com) is a kindergarten teacher at Loon Lake Elementary, in the Walled Lake School District. She is a part of the Walled Lake iCouncil (Instructional Council) team and is part of starting a coding club at her school this year. She is in her eleventh year of teaching, with nine in kindergarten and two in Second Grade. Prior to that she taught in the Walled Lake Great Start Readiness Program, which is a state-funded preschool program for at-risk students. Tricia attended Michigan State University for her undergraduate degree and specialization in Early Childhood. She then attended Wayne State University for her Master’s in Teacher Education.

Student Portfolios: A Proposal

Notes from the Classroom

shutterstock_422892943Student portfolios are a buzzword in education right now. The idea isn’t new, as many educators know. What is new is the idea of digital portfolios. Many software companies are jumping on board and offering some user-friendly options, which are perfect for many classrooms and families (these include Seesaw and Sesame).

As a fifth grade teacher, I am focused on providing my students with a tool that they can use and manage independently throughout their school career. Enter Google.

As a district, we use Google for all of our email and applications. Each student has a Google account that is assigned in elementary school, but for which the ability to use email is turned off. Students are still able to use Google Docs and the other applications in their Google Drive, and beginning in kindergarten, they create docs and save them in a folder.

My vision for my students’ portfolios extends beyond this, into a format that I used during my graduate program: a website.

Though this may sound daunting, I actually teach my students how to create a basic website during our informational unit of study. Google allows us to download a template and edit from there. This works extremely well and helps to engage, enhance, and extend student learning. (See Triple E Framework for more information.)

Students are more engaged in the task; the use of technology enhances the learning (takes it to levels paper and pencil could not); and they are more likely to extend their learning beyond the school day. That is, they work on the task at home, when they don’t have to, but want to!

These websites are all shared with the teacher “as owner,” which ensures that anything that may need to be edited can be done quickly, by an adult.

The Vision

If students were taught to create a website for their portfolios, the possibilities would be endless.

Students could have a page for each subject area. There, they could upload their best pieces of writing, pictures of projects, and even videos of presentations and performances. The site could grow with them throughout their school career and into college and/or work applications. Students could easily capture community service and extracurricular activities, with pictures, reflections, and uploaded certificates. The site could be held “in house” to address privacy concerns until the student turned 18.

Considerations

Theme selection in Weebly. Click to enlarge.

Theme selection in Weebly. Click to enlarge.

Of course, Google is not the only platform students can use. There are many great options out there (Weebly, Wix, and WordPress are a few of the top ones). There would be several factors that would need to be considered for those, including: management (ease for teacher), cost (upgraded sites cost money in order to have certain features), and privacy (having sites as part of a district account allows for greater overview).

Still, no matter what the vehicle, online portfolios increase student agency and have the potential to transform student learning. If our students were constantly thinking about how they could demonstrate and capture their best learning, and they had the power to design and showcase that learning, how powerful would that be?

beth croppedBeth Rogers is a fifth grade teacher for Clarkston Community Schools, where she has been teaching full time since 2006.  She is  blessed to teach Language Arts and Social Studies for her class and her teaching partner’s class, while her partner  teaches all of their math and science. This enables them  to focus on their passions and do the best they can for kids. Beth was chosen as Teacher of the Year for 2013-2014 in her district. She earned a B.S. in Education at Kent State University and a Master’s in Educational Technology at Michigan State University. 

Get Back Up Again

Notes from the Classroom

cant yetFor the past two years, Loon Lake Elementary, where I teach, has really been trying to elicit a growth mindset in our students. We remind them we can always get better at something, and we need to work hard and not give up. We have been focusing on this in cross-grade-level monthly meetings, called Teams, as well as in individual classrooms.

Having a growth mindset carries over into all aspects of the classroom. Knowing that, here are a few of the growth mindset tools my kids have been exploring this year.

The Power of “Yet”

The word yet is a little easier for my kindergarten students to understand than the phrase growth mindset. When my students say they cannot do something, we always add on the word yet. We then talk about what we can do to get better. This really hits home with them.

We completed a sheet (posted above) about something they cannot do–yet–and what they could do to practice and get better. This elicited some great discussions about, for example, how they might not be able to read a certain book, but that they can read some things. And if they keep working on reading strategies, they will get there.

Class Dojo also has some wonderful videos that open up a great dialogue about having a growth versus fixed mindset. One in particular is about the character Mojo, who wants to give up at school because he isn’t “good” at it. The video chronicles how Mojo’s friends help him learn that in school you can’t give up when you don’t succeed the first, second, or third time.

STEM Lessons

A favorite lesson by all has been “Save Fred.” Fred is a gummy worm whose boat (a small plastic cup) has capsized with his lifejacket (a gummy lifesaver) stuck underneath it. The students are not allowed to use hands but are provided several paperclips to save Fred by getting his lifejacket on.

This lesson really drove home the importance of persevering. Students were extremely frustrated they couldn’t use hands and that the gummy worm was larger than the hole in the lifesaver. They had to keep trying. They also had to learn to work together and communicate ideas well.

We also tried the “Marshmallow Tower” challenge, where they were given twenty spaghetti noodles, one yard of masking tape, one yard of string, scissors, and one large marshmallow. Student groups were asked to create the tallest tower to support the marshmallow at the top of the tower within a time limit of eighteen minutes. This was even more challenging than saving Fred. But we noticed that, with encouragement, students did not give up. However, they were extremely frustrated when towers fell repeatedly.

We decided to bring home the point that while you need to try again, you may need to change up your approach. We also wanted to encourage all group members to participate. So we revisited this same lesson, with the addition of straws and pipe cleaners. We started off discussing what students noticed had or hadn’t worked the first time around. We also talked about how to include everyone. Then we showed students the new materials and challenged them again. They were very excited about the addition of the new materials and came up with creative towers and new ideas. Additionally, they stopped to plan first and gain ideas from all group members, instead of one person trying to take charge.

Lessons from Theatre

rapunzel

The script. Click the image to open a larger version in a new window.

My kindergartners, along with our Second Grade Buddy Class, worked on a growth mindset Reader’s Theatre about Rapunzel, created by Whimsy Workshop. The storyline is about how the Prince comes to save Rapunzel, but when he says let down your hair, Rapunzel has just cut it off. The play reveals how they don’t give up, and that they try other ideas to save Rapunzel. The students loved performing for others, as well as the followup STEM challenge of creating a way to save Rapunzel. This further brought home the point that even if you don’t create something that works the first time, you should tweak it and try again.

Try Everything

I know that this isn’t something we can do all of the time. But if we encourage students to have a growth mindset and keep trying, they’ll be more likely to succeed and enjoy school. If students aren’t succeeding and want to give up, that is when we really need to bring them back to having a growth mindset.

Finally, remind them it’s OK to fail! A wonderful book I recently read and highly recommend, Rosie Revere Engineer, by Andrea Beaty, has a great line: The only true failure can come if you quit. Now more than ever we need to bring that home to our students!

image1Tricia Ziegler (Twitter: @axf96; blog: http://kindergartentreasures.blogspot.com/) is a kindergarten teacher at Loon Lake Elementary, in the Walled Lake School District. She is a part of the Walled Lake iCouncil (Instructional Council) team and is part of starting a coding club at her school this year. She is in her eleventh year of teaching, with nine in kindergarten and two in Second Grade. Prior to that she taught in the Walled Lake Great Start Readiness Program, which is a state-funded preschool program for at-risk students. Tricia attended Michigan State University for her undergraduate degree and specialization in Early Childhood. She then attended Wayne State University for her Master’s in Teacher Education.

Finding the Details

Notes from the Classroom

image2This year as a kindergarten team, we had to decide on a Professional Learning Community goal to enhance our instruction. We decided that we’d like to work on having students elaborate in their writing and illustrations, and include feelings in both.

Here is part of what we’re doing.

In the Beginning

In kindergarten we start off our writing instruction by telling oral stories. This is the perfect time to model the adding of details and feelings to one’s story.

We start off by saying, “I bought a toy,” and see if the students find this to be an interesting story. Of course they always want to know more! When it’s the students’ turn to share stories, we ask questions to elicit more details and to see how they’re feeling.

After a few days of oral storytelling with emotional details, we model a detailed illustration of the event discussed. We also phase in the lessons on labeling (i.e., names, label the items in the pic, feelings, etc.).

Just as you convince young readers they are readers, you also need to convince them they are a community of authors and illustrators. Constant praise and access to writing outlets is key.

Mentor Texts

Mentor texts also show students how authors and illustrators include details to make the story more interesting. When feelings are shown, readers can better relate to and understand the story.

Additionally, mentor texts lend themselves well to lessons on writing what are often referred to as small moments. These are moments that have happened to the students, which they would be able to write about in detail. Young authors often express they have nothing to write about; sometimes they just need a little inspiration, and mentor texts can help with that too!

Below are just a few of my personal favorites. I would love to hear a few of your favorite mentor texts in the comments below; I am always looking to expand my library!

  • Hug. This is a great example of something young authors could emulate, in order elaborate their feelings.
  • cover_gramandgrandpaBear’s Loose Tooth and Bear Feels Scared (really the entire Bear series). One way to use these texts is to inspire a story about when students may have lost their first tooth, or about a time they were nervous and had someone help them.
  • Llama Llama books. These books include wonderful descriptive words and the easy flow of the text is fun for children to hear. The descriptive words alone are a great thing to point out for students to add to writing. The storylines are also relatable and a great jumping point when working on details.

Cross-Grade-Level Writing

Something new I’d like to try with my kindergarteners this year is set writing time with our second grade buddy class. Our intention is that writing together will build the skill level of the students as well as the confidence of the second graders. This thought is in its infancy stage and I will hopefully be able to post more about it later in the year.

For now, my coworker and I would like to have the students work together on a book about a character who has struggled to learn and/or do something. They will create a fictional character or write about themselves. We will have lessons built around the details of characters’ feelings, both when they struggle and succeed. The students will work to reflect this in the illustrations and the words.

We will have them share these with each other and other classrooms when completed. The power of an authentic audience is also motivating when writing!

In The End

At the end of the year I know my classroom will be full of amazing authors and illustrators. I know this because I believe in them and because of the growth they’ve already shown in three short months. Most started at the beginning of the year with the creation of what I refer to as sun people–a circle with arms and hands sprouting from it, with a smile inside and no words.

Now they are drawing multiple people with bodies that are separate from their heads, details in the scene, and labels with the picture. Some are adding a descriptive sentence or more about what is going on. I am elated and know they will keep going because they are motivated and believe in themselves too!

image1Tricia Ziegler (Twitter: @axf96; blog: http://kindergartentreasures.blogspot.com/) is a kindergarten teacher at Loon Lake Elementary, in the Walled Lake School District. She is a part of the Walled Lake iCouncil (Instructional Council) team and is part of starting a coding club at her school this year. She is in her eleventh year of teaching, with nine in kindergarten and two in Second Grade. Prior to that she taught in the Walled Lake Great Start Readiness Program, which is a state-funded preschool program for at-risk students. Tricia attended Michigan State University for her undergraduate degree and specialization in Early Childhood. She then attended Wayne State University for her Master’s in Teacher Education.

Writing Pathways Assessment (Grades 3-5), Day 2 of 2

This two day series introduces teachers to Lucy Calkins’ book, Writing Pathways, Grades 3-5 Performance Assessments and Learning Progressions. “Designed as an instructional tool, Writing Pathways will help you provide your students with continuous progressions for opinion/argument, information, and narrative writing, this practical guide includes performance assessments, student checklists, rubrics, and leveled writing exemplars that help you (and your students) evaluate their work and establish where they are at in their writing development.”

Presenters: Michele Farah, Ph.D and Sandy Biondo, Ph.D

Writing Pathways Assessment (Grades K-2), Day 2 of 2

This two day series introduces teachers to Lucy Calkins’ book, Writing Pathways, Grades K-2 Performance Assessments and Learning Progressions. “Designed as an instructional tool, Writing Pathways will help you provide your students with continuous progressions for opinion/argument, information, and narrative writing, this practical guide includes performance assessments, student checklists, rubrics, and leveled writing exemplars that help you (and your students) evaluate their work and establish where they are at in their writing development.”

Presenters: Michele Farah, Ph.D and Sandy Biondo, Ph.D

Writing Pathways Assessment (Grades 3-5), Day 1 of 2

This two day series introduces teachers to Lucy Calkins’ book, Writing Pathways, Grades 3-5 Performance Assessments and Learning Progressions. “Designed as an instructional tool, Writing Pathways will help you provide your students with continuous progressions for opinion/argument, information, and narrative writing, this practical guide includes performance assessments, student checklists, rubrics, and leveled writing exemplars that help you (and your students) evaluate their work and establish where they are at in their writing development.”

Presenters: Michele Farah, Ph.D and Sandy Biondo, Ph.D

Writing Pathways Assessment (Grades K-2), Day 1 of 2

This two day series introduces teachers to Lucy Calkins’  book, Writing Pathways, Grades K-2 Performance Assessments and Learning Progressions. “Designed as an instructional tool, Writing Pathways will help you provide your students with continuous progressions for opinion/argument, information, and narrative writing, this practical guide includes performance assessments, student checklists, rubrics, and leveled writing exemplars that help you (and your students) evaluate their work and establish where they are at in their writing development.”

Presenters: Michele Farah, Ph.D and Sandy Biondo, Ph.D